The changing profile of disability in the U.S. Army: 1981-2005

Nicole S. Bell, Sc.D., M.P.H., Carolyn E. Schwartz, Sc.D., Thomas Harford, Ph.D., Ilyssa E. Hollander, M.P.H., Paul J. Amoroso, M.D., M.P.H.

Disability and Health Journal, January 2008 Volume 1, Issue 1, Pages 14–24



We sought to provide a profile of U.S. Army soldiers discharged with a permanent disability and to clarify whether underlying demographic changes explain increasing risks.


Frequency distributions and logistic regression analyses describe active-duty Army soldiers discharged with a disability (January 1981 through December 2005; N = 108,119). Time-series analysis describes temporal changes in demographic factors associated with disability.


Disability risk has increased 7-fold over the past 25 years. In 2005, there were 1,262 disability discharges per 100,000 active-duty soldiers. Risk factors include female gender, lower rank, married or formerly married, high school education or less, and age 40 or younger. Army population demographics changed during this time; the average age and tenure of soldiers increased, and the proportion of soldiers who were officers, women, and college educated grew. Adjusting for these demographic changes did not explain the rapidly increasing risk of disability. Time-series models revealed that disability among women is increasing independently of the increasing number of women in the Army; disability is also increasing at a faster pace for younger, lower-ranked, enlisted, and shorter-tenured soldiers.


Disability is costly and growing in the Army. Temporal changes in underlying Army population demographics do not explain overall disability increases. Disability is increasing most rapidly among female, junior enlisted, and younger soldiers.